Vail Daily health feature: Deep Brain Stimulation therapy offers help, hope for Parkinson’s sufferers
If You Go
What: Parkinson’s Support Group.
When: 5-6 p.m., fourth Thursday of each month.
Where: Trinity Church, 90 Lariat Loop, Edwards.
More information: RSVP by calling Carly Reitmann, the Eagle County Healthy Aging program coordinator, at 970-328-8896.
EDWARDS — If you’re old enough to remember Howard Cosell’s microphone shaking, you know what Parkinson’s disease looks like.
But what if there was a way to make the tremors stop or at least control them?
People with Parkinson’s have abnormal electrical function in the bottom of their brain. Deep brain stimulation therapy helps correct those electrical functions, says Medtronics, a medical technology company that manufactures the system.
What it does
Deep brain stimulation therapy is a treatment for the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including shaking, stiffness and difficulty moving. The objective of the treatment is to gives you more relief without giving you more medicine.
A small, pacemaker-like device sends electronic signals to an area in the brain that controls movement. These signals block some of the brain messages that cause annoying and disabling motor symptoms.
How it works
Electrical stimulation is delivered to targeted areas on both sides of the brain to help relieve symptoms on both sides of the body.
Electrodes are connected by wires to a type of pacemaker device (called an impulse generator) implanted under the skin of the chest, below the collarbone. Once activated, the device sends continuous electrical pulses to the target areas in the brain, blocking the impulses that cause tremors.
Karen and Jim: A second chance at life and love
Chatting during an online support group for people with young-onset Parkinson’s disease, Karen and Jim realized they had a lot in common. Parkinson’s disease had taken its toll on both their marriages and both were frustrated with not being able to do the simplest tasks, despite an endless combination of medications, timing changes and dosage levels.
“One day, I could needlework; the next day, I couldn’t,” Karen said. “At one point, I was taking the maximum amount of drugs and feeling groggy and nauseous all the time.”
She had to quit her job in customer relations because computer keyboarding became too difficult, and she rarely took the walks she loved for fear of tripping and falling. Eventually, Karen relied on a wheelchair and crutch to get around.
Jim was taking 15 pills a day, but his symptoms continued to get worse.
“Routine tasks like brushing my teeth, grabbing something out of a pocket and signing my name became impossible,” he said. “And the medication made me lose my sense of thought and feel confused.”
They did a little research and thought deep brain stimulation was for desperate people.
“It’ll be a cold day in you know where before I sign up for that kind of surgery,” Jim recalled saying to Karen.
Jim changed his mind when he began “freezing.”
He had the surgery and is down to a few pills a day. He has some pain where the leads were implanted and in his chest, where the neurostimulator was placed.
Karen had hers implanted one side at a time, the right and then two months later the left.
She had the surgery Monday, went home Wednesday and walked into church Sunday without her wheelchair or crutch.
It requires some trial and error and patience. It can take up to a year to get the settings right, Karen said.
“It takes patience, even though I know I’m so much better than before the surgery,” Karen said.
Karen and Jim talk to people considering deep brain stimulation therapy. They participate in a support group at their local clinic for people with young-onset Parkinson’s disease.
“It helps to talk to someone who has actually been through the process and see that there is life after DBS,” Jim said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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